How to Use this Book

This post follows on from yesterday’s post (25th July 2018) the one prior to that on the 24th. It is the final section in the introductory paragraph of the book I am writing for mothers apart. This section explains how to use the book. All feedback welcome 🙂 I’m not too fussed about the writing at this stage these are just first drafts. It’s more about getting the content right, which means what mothers want to know and read about.



How to Use this Book

Remembering the traumatised and frightened soul that I was in the women’s refuges, desperate to understand and try anything to get my children back, I strove to write the book that I wanted myself. If you’re like me, you may devour this book in one sitting, frantically seeking answers to an impossibly wicked problem in a world where nobody seems to know how to help you or your children. It is imperative that you keep yourself safe if you are still with your abuser, so keep this book out of sight if you are. You may be punished for reading something if it is recognised as empowering or strategic, and may arouse suspicion if you are planning your escape. Similarly, if you keep a journal or notebook in which you write notes whilst reading this book, keep them in a safe place. If you are living in fear, and haven’t already sought help, please find out where your nearest women’s centre or specialist domestic abuse service is, and visit them for support and to begin formally recording your plight. A paper trail devised through records is crucial when pressing charges of coercive control – should you choose to take this course of action.

It is also important that you take care of yourself whilst reading this book because of the feelings that may arise. Many women who answered the advertisement to take part in my research never realised or acknowledged that they were victims of domestic abuse until their involvement in the project. Despite living in fear and being controlled for many years, women found it difficult to come to terms with thinking of themselves as being abused because there was minimal physical violence. Mothers separated from their children often thought of themselves as victims of ‘Parental Alienation Syndrome’ (more of this later) as if some abstract concept was to blame for their plights without making the association between the concept and the abusive man who was alienating their children from them, such was their denial of their situation. This book may trigger painful and difficult memories and feelings, so look after yourself while you read it. Make sure that you can do something restorative afterwards such as taking a walk, having a relaxing bath, or talking to a trusted friend or ally. It may be that you don’t read it all in one go but in small chunks, as you feel able. However you read it, remember that it will likely affect your mood if the subject and details resonate with you, and that others may notice or be affected in turn. So be mindful of the book’s impact on you and keep yourself safe.

This book does not claim to tell you how to get your children back. However, I have been immersed in the world of mothers apart from their children for very many years now and I believe that what I have to share with you can only help in some way – whether that’s in a small way or something more significant. Because I needed to understand how and why my children were separated from me, I completed one master’s dissertation and one doctoral study of this subject. So, I have accumulated a great deal of knowledge and understanding that I believe will help, support and comfort mothers living apart from a child or being threatened with this situation. So, whether you are a mother who is working out how to leave your abuser without losing your children, are going through court proceedings, or have not seen your child/children for many years, I think there will be something within these pages that will be of succour. Knowledge is power and making meaning out of the senseless can help. I have put everything into this book that I can think of that will help you in some way, and I believe that it will help you in any number of ways – whether you are at risk of becoming separated from their children or already have. What I share with you on these pages has been a labour of love, shaped by commitment to all those involved in my research, and from hope for a better future for mothers and children everywhere.

Let me now take you through what you will find in this book. Following the introduction, there are five chapters that each finish with a list of references and suggestions for further reading. The book ends with a glossary of terms, a selection of resources, and an index.

Chapter One considers the problem of mother-child separation by abusive men through a feminist lens to focus on gender. This chapter explains why there is a focus on the abuse of women as mothers in this book, which is about strategic mother-child separation via coercive control. This form of abuse involves strategies that rely on a seemingly gender-neutral system, which is actually highly gendered in its victim/mother-blaming. In this chapter, I provide you with a historical perspective and chronological account of the ways in which political and legal movements in the US and the UK family courts have shaped parenting practices post-divorce and separation. We begin in 1808 with Caroline Norton, one of the most important figures in changing the law for wives and mothers, and learn of her introduction of ‘the tender years doctrine’ and, then, the move away from this presumption to one of equal parenting and joint custody in the 1970s. I explain how these key changes have been understood as a backlash to second wave feminism by focusing on the emergence of an American theory: Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). I discuss the continuing rise in the UK of this concept and explain the damage caused to women and children who are victims/survivors of domestic and sexual abuse by court-appointed ‘experts’ who use it. I also highlight the prevailing myths around mothers and custody and how they are perpetuated.

Chapter Two introduces the six mothers apart whom I recruited from MATCH Mothers for my master’s investigation into how women become separated from their children in a context of domestic abuse. I provide an overview of their stories in this chapter, which are used as examples throughout the book. I also explain how the interviews with these six women led me to question the usefulness of the concept of parental alienation that is used by the majority of MATCH Mothers to explain their situation, because the concept appears to fail them. Then, I draw on the concept of Maternal Alienation, originated by Australian researcher, Anne Morris, who coined the term to counter PAS. The author understood the danger of this theory to women and children victims/survivors and this book shares her explanations of how grooming and interfering with the mother-child relationship are often integral to both domestic and sexual violence. Finally, I discuss why I chose to dispense with the language of alienation altogether and focus on coercive control.

Chapter Three begins by explaining what coercive control is. There is already a good deal of information on this subject in general, both online and in books. Professor Evan Stark is the author of the definitive text: Coercive Control, which is a first-rate academic textbook that is consulted and quoted by practitioners and academics worldwide. A more accessible book for non-academics (and academics alike) is Lisa Fontes’ excellent Invisible Chains: Overcoming coercive control in your intimate relationship. Women’s Aid also provides a wealth of information on coercive control free of charge through their website, The explanation of coercive control in this book begins with an overall summary of this theory and concept. Then, the chapter narrows down its focus to the ways in which coercive controllers specifically: target women as mothers, interfere in mother-child relationships, use and abuse children to harm their mothers, and engineer mother-child separations. I use the stories from the mothers introduced in Chapter Two to illustrate these aspects of men’s violence against women and children.

Chapter Four begins with a characterisation of the predator and his victim by highlighting a common vulnerability in the mothers apart in my study, which I noticed early on. In one way or another they were all young women made vulnerable through some kind of abuse trauma that left them with low self-esteem and confidence and that motherhood compounded this vulnerability. This is not to say, however, that the coercive controller will not target the most professional and confident woman. Rather, it emphasises that one in three women have been a victim of domestic violence and/or sexual violence – whatever their profession, class and status – and that women’s roles as mothers confer upon them a vulnerability in itself. I draw heavily from the interviews with the six mothers apart already mentioned to explain the mechanisms through which ex-partners abused, controlled, threatened, intimidated and humiliated them through their children. I analyse the women’s account to explain the ways in which ex-partners perpetrated this form of abuse in order to: keep the women entrapped in abusive relationships, prevent them from leaving, punish them for escaping, and continue to abuse and control in perpetuity.

Chapter Five begins by drawing on findings of my doctoral study that emphasise the key roles that professionals have in coercive controllers’ strategies that target the mother-child relationship. I relate the main themes to what has already been said in the academic literature to highlight how these problems have been understood in academia for aeons. I offer an explanation of why, despite this academic knowledge, there are no formal pathways for prevention and recovery. I argue that part of the reason is mother-blaming ideology, culture and practice that exists in the UK and all around the world. Again, I bring a gender perspective to show how victim/mother-blaming is part of the problem. Professionals can be unwittingly enlisted to assist the abusive man who is intent on destroying the bonds between mother and child by favouring his account over the mother’s. My research also revealed that many workers sometimes turn away from helping when they are frightened of a violent or intimidating man – even if it means the child goes to live with him. I reveal a range of hindering and helpful responses by professionals/experts that direct the fate of mothers and children. Coercive controllers have an unexpectedly nuanced understanding of victim/mother-blaming that occurs within systems – and the professionals within them – and they use this to their advantage when: abusing women as mothers, interfering in the mother-child relationship, using and abusing children to harm their mothers, and engineering mother-child separations. This chapter introduces the UK 2015 coercive control legislation to help you understand how to address this form of abuse by using the law. Although, at the time of writing, the law has not yet been used in this way, the first case to do so will lead the way for others.

Chapter Six begins with women’s accounts of recovery from mother-child separation via coercive control, which can be a long and arduous road. People contact me on a daily basis with terrible heart-rending tales of not being able to see or speak to their children – sometimes for many years. I have a message on my blog that ends: I don’t want to live anymore… and some women (and children) don’t make it. Wearing women down to breaking point is all part of the coercive controller’s strategy: isolating her, stripping her of resources and causing psychological/emotional distress that can be interpreted as a mental/personality disorder (and a safeguarding risk) by involved services, all work to the abusive man’s advantage. In this chapter, I will explain how to manage your trauma, prioritise self-care, know the importance of a strong support network and offer hope to carry you along when little else does. I learned though my research that some mothers apart are offended by the notion of acceptance, which following grief and loss is an important aspect of obtaining some closure. But this state will be challenging for those mothers who believe that to accept what happened to them and their children is to agree with, or consent to it. In this chapter, I will help you to understand how coming to terms with the problem in all its terribleness can help you to live through the pain and suffering of ‘losing’ a child in this way and assure you that, coming to terms with what has happened, does not mean that you agree or consent to it. Finally, this chapter offers the possibility of making sense of senseless events by discussing research into post-traumatic growth. We see how suffering need not destroy and how, instead, it can offer the potential for growth from adversity, which comes from creating new meanings, purpose and direction in life.

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Who I am Now and Why I Wrote this Particular Book

This post follows on from yesterday’s (23rd July 2018) and is the second part of the Introduction to my book, planned for mothers apart. All feedback welcome 🙂



Who I am Now and Why I Wrote this Particular Book

Since leaving that women’s refuge, I have earned a doctorate in psychology and am now a doctor of philosophy in improving professionals’ responses to mothers who have become, or are at risk of becoming, separated from their children, in contexts of violence and abuse. I planned and developed an innovative domestic abuse education programme that encourages practitioners to examine their own part in outcomes by encouraging reflective practice and fostering reflexivity. The latter is the ability to understand where experts’ knowledge and beliefs come from and to consider how their own attitudes and values shape their practice. Such reflection and critical analysis of practice in this field not only has the potential to actively avoid blaming women and mothers but can lead to holding abusive men accountable for their actions and promote understanding of how perpetrators exploit professionals who can unwittingly support their strategies to target the mother-child relationship. I facilitate such women-centred education in coercive control, in a programme that is based on person-centred principles for practitioners working at the intersection where mothers separated from their children might be found seeking help or be forced to engage in an intervention relating to safeguarding and/or contact.

I am also a counsellor and psychotherapist specialising in abuse and trauma that manifests in problems for individuals, couples, and families. And, I provide consultative supervision to a wide range of practitioners in health and social care. Additionally, I teach humanistic counselling practice at the University of Nottingham in the School of Education. In this department, I have the privilege of working alongside Professor Stephen Joseph, who researches and writes about post-traumatic growth and positive psychology. These concepts have encouraged me greatly on my journey because they offer me a way of creating meaning from suffering, help me to value my own growth, and inspire me to commit to sharing my experience, knowledge, and research, in order to help, support and inspire others.

My doctoral study was devoted to investigating how professionals’ responses to mothers separated from their children could be improved, following an early scoping exercise, which exposed a catalogue of survivors’ grievances about various experts/workers. During the course of my study, both mothers and practitioners, who talked about other workers’ practices, reported: inappropriate mother-blaming behaviours, shocking insensitivity, utter dismissal of mothers’ concerns, and outright abusive practice by a range of experts in the field – including judges, psychiatrists, social workers, and counsellors. There was also a range of helpful, supportive, therapeutic and kind responses by individuals in these same fields, described by the women and experts that I spoke to. Either way, professionals’ responses directly impacted on the outcome as to whether mothers and children were helped to remain together, or if perpetrators were enabled in their machinations to destroy mother-child relationships. If like me, you find the random nature of individual practitioners’ responses an unbelievable situation, then you have only my sympathies. For it really is the case that the fate of mothers and children being able to remain together is, largely, in the hands of the workers she encounters. It is a complete lottery as to whether she finds herself under the scrutiny of someone who is judgmental, blaming, misogynistic and punitive or in the hands of someone who is believing, supportive, empathic and resourceful.

My initial plans for my doctoral studies involved the development of a group therapy programme for mothers dealing with the psychological impact of mother-child separation. However, after that initial scoping exercise, I switched my focus to the professionals because that’s what the mothers said they wanted. In the main, the women involved in The Mothers Apart Project were recruited from the charity, MATCH Mothers (mothers apart from their children) In this online, self-help community dwells an amazing group of women who help and support each other through the worst of times. Almost every mother I ever met through MATCH thought she was the only mother apart before finding the charity, which indicates the tendency for mothers living apart from their children to stay quiet about their situation. Many women speak of the shame and embarrassment of being a mother apart and some keep it secret for evermore – never telling anyone – not friends, colleagues or new partners. The women talk of barely existing and describe their experiences as a living bereavement. Meetings are highly emotive as women try to manage their grief, loss and anger – at the system, at professionals who let them down, and at the abusive men who turn their children against them. In lighter moments, women joke that ‘it seems like we were all married to the same man’. The shame that burdens mothers separated from their children via coercive control isn’t theirs to carry – it belongs to their abusers. Yet the fathers/perpetrators of this terrible form of abuse against women and children often position themselves as the true victims, and as heroes and benefactors. Friends, family and professionals willingly accept their version of events over the mothers’ accounts in a post-truth world where money, power and status lend credence to a new narrative that suits the system.

This book explains an aspect of coercive control whereby abusive men harm women as mothers by using and abusing their children against them, by targeting the mother-child relationship, and by exploiting mother-blaming ideology, culture and practices. The vulnerabilities of women as mothers make this aspect of coercive control a common feature of the abusive relationship itself. The usual threat to women living in these circumstances is that, if they try and leave, or if they tell anyone about the abuse, then their children will be hurt or they’ll never see them again. Such threats keep countless women bound to their abusers in fear – sometimes for life. If a woman dares report the abuse or tries to leave, the threats may be executed. If she actually manages to escape, then the abuse will likely escalate at the point of separation and divorce to a full-scale assault on her relationship with her children – usually through the family courts. This behaviour is calculated to continue the abuse, control, intimidation and humiliation. It is enacted out of revenge, a desire to punish her for leaving and a continued need to control.

This is the experience of countless women past and present, and I have spoken to very many of them over the years of conducting my research. In this book, I draw on my investigation to explain in detail how the perpetrator manages to succeed in a form of abuse that seems impossible to many. This is especially true of professionals in health and social services, in the family court arenas, and even in domestic abuse agencies and in the ‘psych’ professions, i.e., psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists. I interviewed thirty-one professionals in all – both men and women – from a variety of backgrounds. Interestingly, I noted the frequency with which female practitioners told me, with some conviction, how they would never let such a thing happen to them: that they would kill the man that tried to come between them and their children. But the reality is, that if an abusive man sets his mind on achieving a mother-child separation via coercive control then he will have done most of the grooming and groundwork before the woman even realises. Then, when he begins to inundate services with false accusations, there is little a woman can do but comply with the system in defending herself. Killing the man wouldn’t help in the least, and her maternal fury would only be perceived as a mental/personality disorder. If she went on the run with her children – as some mothers do, then there would likely be a national search for the missing children, and she would be vilified or supported in the press depending on people’s ignorance or knowledge. The inevitable outcome on her return would almost certainly be for her children to be ordered by the courts to live with her abuser, and minimal contact for her – likely leading to nil contact. Even the strongest mother who is prepared to kill for her children can be totally disempowered by a system that forces her to hand over her children to her/their abuser.

Currently, the family court system in the UK is set-up in such a way that coercive controllers can exploit it to their advantage. This book is for all those women who, when threatened with mother-child separation by their abuser or abusive ex-partner, find that the system works against them. And, for those mothers whose worst nightmare has come true, and their children have been wrested from them, this book not only provides some understanding of this process, which can be important in making sense of the senseless. For both mothers who are threatened with and have experienced mother-child separation, this book helps survivors in shaping a future that creates meaning from suffering, fosters hope, and encourages self-care and self-love.

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A Personal Introduction

So, I’ve now written the first draft of a book proposal and sent it out to a publisher to see what they think. As part of the proposal, I wrote an introduction to the book, which I am sharing with you here. I would love some feedback if it is the sort of book that you might buy, so let me know what you think ok? The introduction has 3 sections:

  • A Personal Introduction
  • Who I am Now and Why I Wrote this Particular Book
  • How to Use this Book

I’m going to publish these 3 sections separately over 3 days, so let me know what you think ok?

close up of book

Photo by on



A Personal Introduction


In the first year of living apart from my two children in 2004 I met Sandra Horley, Chief Executive of Refuge, when she was visiting and talking to the residents their women’s refuges where I was living at that time. Us residents had been given a copy of Sandra’s book, Power and Control, which was life-changing for me as I learned that domestic abuse was not quite what I had understood it to be. I told Sandra that I recognised the charming man she wrote of in her book and that, I too, was going to write a book – about how that man turned my children against me. Sandra was very encouraging and told me to let her know when I’d written it. It took me fourteen years and a PhD, to be in a position where I could set out with any clarity the complex and harrowing phenomenon that is mother-child separation via coercive control.

This book isn’t just about my own story because I tell it mainly through those of the women I interviewed during my research. But the book is also informed my own experiences and through the stories of countless other women who I meet and speak to every day via my blog, at conferences, in therapy with mothers apart from their children, and through the wonderful charity, MATCH Mothers.

Back in 2004, a psychologist at the refuge, Roxane Agnew-Davies, diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder. I was in bad shape, emotionally and psychologically. I was managing the powerlessness of my situation with extreme dieting and exercise in the day and self-medicating with alcohol and cigarettes to ease the pain at night. I contemplated suicide. On some days I couldn’t get out of bed and felt that I might, literally, die of the pain. But, somehow, I realised these thoughts and behaviours were only a temporary escape from the intense grief and sorrow I was feeling at being apart from my children. A part of me knew that I needed to survive for my children because my overriding feeling was that they were sure to need me one day. In that refuge, I made up my mind to get well and make something of myself so that they could be proud of me one day. I committed to being the best version of myself that I could be and started on a path of recovery, education and flourishing.

In the end, I was apart from my son for 9 years and my daughter for 12. They were adults when they came back and moved in with me. I wrote this book whilst living under the same roof as them. I never imagined that scenario when I told Sandra Horley of my writing plans in 2004. Life is full of surprises. This book offers hope and guidance to the many women who are threatened with mother-child separation and to those who dread they may never see their children again.

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Writing a Book for Mothers Apart

This week I’ve started writing a book that has been many years in the making.

Before this week, I’ve been preparing to spend some time working out exactly what type of book it is that I want to write… a self-help book for mothers apart, a memoir, an autoethnography, a novel, a practitioner handbook?

No sooner had I retrieved my A1 flipchart paper, my felt pens and post-it notes to begin storyboarding (taught to me by the amazing Wendy Stainton-Rogers) my decision was made. I needed to go into my old uni email account for some information and there was an unread email from a friend of mother apart, Lisa Jenkins, who wrote to me last year to tell me about the circumstances of not being able to see her children. This is what Lisa’s friend’s email said:

You don’t know me but my friend, Lisa Jenkins, wrote to you last year asking for advice on how best to deal with the maternal alienation her partner was inflicting on her and her children.

Sadly Lisa was found dead, on the Isle of Man, last month.  I know she was grateful for your suggestions. 

Myself and some of her friends would like to do something around MA in her memory, if you have any suggestions we would be most grateful to you.

The news is devastating, tragic and so terribly sad.

There is currently an enquiry but if, as I suspect, Lisa found the pain of mother-child separation so unbearable that she ended her life, then the enquiry won’t record any such details. It will simply conclude there were no suspicious circumstances or third-party involvement in Lisa’s death, and this will be accepted by the court. End of story.

Reading Lisa’s friend’s email, I knew instantly the book I needed to write. I went back to Lisa’s email and it was all there – her story just like many other stories, including my own once upon a time: mother apart struggling to find a way back to her beloved children, desperately seeking advice and support from anyone who might be able to help.

So, I’ve started writing a book for mothers apart.

I’ll be sharing the draft as I go for feedback, so watch this space…

And Lisa, my heart goes out to you (and your children). You were a loving mother and a good friend to many.  Yes, I would like to do something around MA in your memory as your friend suggests. I would like to honour you in my book.

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Diagnoses are Risky for Mothers Apart

As you can imagine, mothers who have become separated from their children through family courts processes are usually profoundly distressed. Often survivors of trauma, abuse and violence, they sometimes just exist rather than have any quality of life. Estrangements might last for for a short time, or for very many years – some mothers never see their children again. Mothers apart may exist in sad, angry, depressed, anxious and stressed states and never find a way out of the darkness. Commonly, coercive and controlling partners engineer mother-child separations that result from private children’s proceedings. The child can be lost to the mother’s abuser if his strategy to punish her for leaving, for example, is to turn her child against her. This is a double blow as a mother not only has to live apart from her child but also cannot protect the child from her abuser, especially as she has no proof of abuse, as is so often the case with coercive control. Such mothers are, naturally, grieving – and the grief is complex as there are so many losses. It can be disenfranchised when the child is not dead but estranged and the mother does not benefit from all the normal societal responses, eg., sympathy, a ceremony, etc.

Mothers apart carry their sorrow and rage for years and can find it hard to regulate their emotions. They may suffer terrible guilt and shame and drive themselves to painful psychological states by self-punishing/self-harming behaviours. Mothers who have their children wrested from them by manipulative and powerful ex-partners are often wrongfully accused by professionals and services as unsafe parents in the process. This can manifest in deep shame, self-hate and a profound sense of failure. There will be no end of people to reinforce these messages through one of society’s favourite past-times: mother-blaming.

Mothers blame themselves anyway – they don’t need others’ judgement. Post-violent and controlling relationships they also suffer survivor’s guilt. How could they escape their abusers without their children? How can they lead any kind of life knowing their precious children are still living with abuse and danger? Mothers who know nothing of being separated from a child exclaim that they would never leave their children, that they couldn’t live without their children – that they would die for their children. But mothers apart thought those things too once upon a time. They also believed that their children would never reject them, would never stop loving them, would never want to be looked after anyone else but mummy. Other mothers just don’t understand and are usually more critical, judgemental and blaming than anyone else. How could she? They say. Their disgust adds to the burden already carried by mothers without their children.

Most mothers apart try and find help and support via their GPs or from the psych professionals for their unbearable emotional and psychological symptoms. In most Western cultures,  the medical model reigns, so grieving and traumatised mothers recovering from abuse and trauma are often diagnosed with range of mental health problems: clinical depression, general anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. They can be prescribed very powerful psychiatric and anti-psychotic drugs, as is routine with perceived mentally illness – often assumed to be a chemical imbalance in the brain needing medication.

The most common diagnosis is depression, which is identified using the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic & Statistical Manual (DSM), now in its 5th edition. Written by a panel of psychiatrists, this is the bible used by GPs to identify and diagnose mental health problems. For a diagnosis of depression, the patient needs to display 5 out of 9 symptoms provided as a checklist in the DSM. For example, depressed mood, decreased interest in pleasure, or feelings of worthlessness. Because almost everyone who is grieving matches the criteria for clinical depression, the DSM used to contains what was known as the ‘grief exception’ or ‘bereavement exclusion’.  So, a mother recently suffering loss, will not be considered as having a mental health problem for the duration of a period allowed for grief. However, this period diminished over the years from a year to only 2 weeks before scrapping it all together. Now, the grief symptoms experienced by a mother apart are more likely to be recognised as any number of disorders as described above and she could receive a diagnosis for treatment with medication.

The problem with this for mothers apart is that they are often involved in protracted court cases of many years with manipulative exes over the children. A diagnosis of a mental health problem or personality disorder could affect a woman’s chances of getting her children back or having regular contact – or even seeing them at all. This will be especially true in cases of coercive control when an abuser will be seizing every opportunity to malign the mother. As a therapist, I have lost count of the number of perfectly sane mothers who are ordered by the courts to be assessed by a psychiatrist or a psychologist in order to have contact with their children. These psychs are paid thousands of pounds to listen to the mother tell her story and, very often, when she strays into details of sexual and domestic violence that’s when she’ll be pronounced either a liar or delusional if she has no evidence. And, let’s face it, it would be very difficult to gather evidence of either child sex abuse or coercive control, for the woman who is no longer with her abuser, especially if he has care of her children. She will often have only her story and her memories, which can be refuted. Either conclusion – liar or delusional –  can mean no contact. So, for the mother seeking to prove that SDVA took place ,and that she is not a liar or mentally ill, a word of warning… It can be a very risky business for mothers apart to go anywhere near those that assess and diagnose for the family courts in this regard.


Posted in child contact, coercive control, family courts, mother-blaming | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Escaping a loop of unwanted thoughts

I am writing this post to help a client who has been experiencing overwhelming, unwanted and seemingly uncontrollable frightening and distressing thoughts. I hope that it might be helpful to whoever reads it. I have a great deal of personal and professional experience of escaping this continual negative loop by using a number of tactics based on powerful affirmations, loving self-care and self-acceptance, calming meditation, supportive networks, empowering journalling and knowledge-building bibliotherapy.


In my experience, affirmations can be an incredibly powerful tool to counter painful feelings and negative thoughts when you have to try and put them to one side to get on with your day or, indeed, your life. I learned of the power of affirmations through the work of Louise L. Hay and I have many of her recordings, which I, and the clients who I recommend them to, have found helpful.

Examples of affirmations:

This will pass.

I can handle it.

am dealing with this.

All is well in my world.

I am in control of my life.

I am loving, lovable and loved.

I am confident and competent woman/man.

Every day, in every way, I get stronger and stronger.

It is important to remember that these are affirmations and not truths. If you have a bad day, it doesn’t mean they are not true and not working, and that you really are not any of the things you started believing in. The point is that you are acting as if they are true in order to condition yourself to believe them. But we all have bad days and it is helpful to have some acceptance of this fact and concentrate on loving and caring for ourselves instead.

Loving self-care and self-acceptance

Be active in loving yourself and looking after yourself. Put yourself first. We need to love and accept ourselves and have self-empathy before we can truly love, accept and empathise with others. Avoid self-criticism, self-blame, self-reproach – don’t put yourself down – there are plenty of others who will do that for you so work hard to build yourself up instead. There are lots of ways to increase self-confidence and self-esteem – beginning with those affirmations. One effective method of self-care to help look after yourself when you’ve been having a rough time of it and you are in a dark place is to parent yourself. Imagine being both child and parent and the parent in you is charged with looking after the child in you. I find this an extremely loving way to nurture the self by being kind and gentle, by asking what the child inside needs and attending to those needs in a loving and caring way. I work with clients using this type of inner child work, which I learned through training in the Penny Parks method.

Calming meditation

There are a wealth of free and high quality meditations available via the Internet through resources such as YouTube and iTunes. Listening to a meditation can really help calm the stress and anxiety when you get stuck in a negative thought loop and I highly recommend finding out which ones work for you so that you can access one quickly if you are feeling panicky or frightened, and get to know the ones that you really enjoy so that you can plan to spend time in the evening after work meditating and relaxing when you recognise the need for calm and relaxation. There are different types of meditations either with guided (talking), or just music with nature sounds and pictures. I have recently discovered that Tina Turner has now devoted herself to Buddhism and meditation and she has provided many YouTube videos for us to enjoy – quite a few of them with children singing, which seem to have their own healing qualities.

Supportive networks

It is very hard to deal with life’s problems all alone – some problems are impossible to manage all by oneself. Building a good support network can be key to looking after ourselves and knowing how to ask for help and who to talk to when we recognise this could help are healthy coping skills. When we get stuck in a negative thought loop, talking can help so it is very useful to have some numbers of appropriate people or agencies to call in an emergency. There are many helplines for general distress such as the Samaritans, which is a wonderful resource for anybody feeling alone and desperate in the small hours when everyone else is asleep.

Empowering journalling

Writing a journal morning and night can really keep us on track when trying to cope through difficult times when we might be faced with many challenges throughout the day.

In the morning you may ask yourself the following questions:

How do I feel this morning?

What challenges do I anticipate today?

What coping methods will I use today to help me manage stress and build resilience?

By asking yourself such questions you may anticipate difficulties and pre-empt unhealthy coping methods by actively engaging in loving self-care, affirmations and meditation. You may recognise the need to talk to someone about your feelings, ask for help or even cancel an engagement if you recognise it as possibly too overwhelming for you. In these ways, you can keep yourself safe.

In the evening, you could ask yourself these questions:

How do I feel this evening?

What did I learn today and how can I put this into practise?

What would I have liked to have done differently?

Drawing on Kolb’s experiential learning cycle to think about how we can learn from our experiences we can being to identify what helps or harms us so that we know better how to deal with future situations. This is an effective method of increasing self-awareness, which is fundamental to growth and change. Again, we need to be loving, caring and kind towards ourselves and reflect in an honest but compassionate and forgiving way.


Learning and understanding through reading different types of self-help or other types of relevant books can be hugely therapeutic. I particularly recommend audible books when stuck in a negative thought loop as listening to someone read to us can really take our minds off unwanted thoughts. is a great way to download books onto your iPhone or tablet so that you have books to hand when struggling with painful thoughts or challenging situations. Some of my favourites and some titles that others have recommended to me include:

Anything by Louise L. Hay

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers

Awakening Compassion by Pema Chodron

A Course in Miracles by The Foundation for Inner Peace

The Empathy Instinct by Peter Bazalgette

Humble Enquiry by Edgar H. Schein

It Didn’t Start with You by Mark Wolynn

Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Anything by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Any of the Sleep Learning audible books by Anna Thompson

Do comment below if you have a suggestion!


I would like to end with this prayer by Julian of Norwich. Although I am not a religious person, I find her prayer immensely soothing and grounding when sung as a little ditty.

All shall be well, and all shall be well.

All manner of thing shall be well.


Warm wishes, Laura








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My Practice

Source: My Practice

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Winnicott’s ‘good-enough’ mother

The concept of the ‘good-enough’ mother, introduced by Winnicott (1965), is still in common use today in family law, and in health and social services. However, it is often misused to blame women for falling below expected standards of parenting rather using it in its intended context. It is often not understood that the concept of the good-enough mother was embedded in another concept: that of ‘the nursing triad’. Winnicott acknowledged that support for mothers is necessary to mothering. The author did not have an expectation that mothers could be ‘good-enough’ without the support of either the child’s father, or another supportive adult. On the contrary, Winnicott acknowledged that mothering would be very difficult without support: this was a concept that he applied to all mothers.

Mothering without support becomes even more problematic when mothers have to manage alone in a context of domestic violence and abuse. Women who are mothering through DVA need help and support more than most. Furthermore, when the mother-child relationship is actively being interfered with and sabotaged by an abusive man using coercive control tactics mothers need specialised support from experts who understand this type of abuse.  To expect women to overcome difficulties on their own is unrealistic, and to accuse women of not being ‘good-enough’ mothers because they are in a DVA relationship is to ignore the difficulties in escaping abusers and how they need help to do this. To blame women for abuse perpetrated towards them (and their children) is simply to shift the blame from the perpetrator to the victim and needs challenging. Furthermore, mother-blaming of this type supports perpetrator strategies to undermine mothering roles, abuse woman as mothers, and target mother-child relationships. Professionals can be unwittingly co-opted into such perpetrator strategies when they allow themselves to be manipulated by abusive men who are exploiting mother-blaming systems to their own advantage, e.g. by accusing mothers of being ‘unfit mothers’, ‘bad mothers’ – not ‘good-enough’ mothers.

This deficit model of the mother who is not ‘good-enough’ fails to acknowledge the many ways that women care for and protect their children in DVA situations. A strengths-based model of mothering recognises women as experts in their children’s lives. A mother-centred approach enables professionals to listen to women and believe them so that they know what they need to support and protect their children from their partner’s abuse. Mothers experiencing DVA need to be supported and protected, not blamed, threatened or punished. Winnicott’s ‘good-enough’ mother needed support. Women trying to escape DVA need more support and this is often in the form of protection. As many researchers have said, mother protection is often the best form of child protection….

The best way to prevent child abuse is through ‘female empowerment’” Stark and Flitcraft (1998: 97)
“The best form of child protection is frequently mother protection” Kelly (1997)

Supporting the non-abusing parent is likely to improve the safety and well-being of children and should always be fully explored (Women’s Aid 2015)
“The most effective way of creating safety for the child is usually to increase the safety of their mother” (Laing and Humphreys 2013)

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Use the law to address coercive control involving interference in the mother-child relationship

I have had a number of emails in the last week from women whose ex-partners are turning their children against them. These emails are in response to a presentation that I gave at the WMSDAC conference in Birmingham last week on coercive control through the use of children and the ways that abusive men target the mother-child relationship.

What I recommend to anyone in this situation is to understand how strategies involving children, directly or indirectly, particularly those that target women as mothers, and interfere or seek to destroy the mother-child relationship are part of a pattern of coercive control. We now have a law in the UK to address coercive control and I urge anyone experiencing this range of tactics to pursue their abuser using this law.

Understand what coercive control is. There is much information on the internet, e.g. Rights Of Women have a good info page:

Rights of Women

It is vital that you visit your local DVA services asap to explain that you are experiencing post-separation abuse and that your ex-partner is continuing to control, abuse, threaten, intimidate, frighten and punish you through your children. Women’s Aid have a wealth of information about where to find help and support.

Women’s Aid

If your abuser is one who threatened you with loss of contact with your children (as is very common), explain that your children don’t want to see you because he has carried out this threat, and this is the consequence of the coercive control that you experienced during your relationship. It is important that you engage with your local DVA services to build a paper trail of how you have reported the abuse over a period of time. You will be asked to keep a detailed diary of all the ways in which your partner is coercively controlling you. I advise that you record in as much detail as possible how this started before your children were turned against you or stopped seeing you, describing the grooming and alienating strategies that led to your separation from each other. This paper trail is important in order for you to apply for legal aid. You might be able to get legal aid if you have evidence that you or your children have been victims of domestic abuse or violence and you can’t afford to pay legal costs.

Legal aid

Many abusive men have engineered a situation through the family courts where women have lost contact with their children when the abuser has used the concept of parental alienation syndrome to claim that reports of DVA and CSA are fabricated and are really attempts by ‘malicious mothers’ to prevent contact between loving fathers and their children. This is often a very successful strategy of abusive men who use the family courts to continue abuse and control because this narrative has become embedded in the national psyche through decades of promulgation by fathers’ rights activists. It is virtually an article of faith now in the family courts that reports of DVA and CSA are likely to be false allegations. So much so that women who make such reports at the time of divorce and separation are often advised by their solicitors to keep quiet about these because they are likely to be disbelieved and their abusers even more likely to be awarded greater contact.

In contrast, family courts rarely recognise the abuse that women  and children experience when abusive men use alienating strategies themselves; when they target the mother-child relationship. This is because these tactics form part of a continuum of violence against women that are denied, minimised or ignored by courts – largely because of the parental alienation syndrome concept. This concept, therefore, has become a powerful tool for abusive men to simultaneously deny their abuse and commit further abuse through using alienating strategies, refuting alienating strategies and accusing women of alienating strategies. All of which are more likely to be believed by professionals in family courts then women’s own accounts of abuse perpetrated towards them and their children.

It is important to understand how abusive men co-opt professionals into abusive strategies using children by overwhelming services with their versions of events, claiming that they are the real victims. They use the same tactics with professionals as they do with their victims – either to charm or elicit sympathy, or to threaten and intimidate. They manipulate workers and exploit systems, by capitalising on victim/mother-blaming discourses that are embedded in patriarchal institutions. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ mothers, mothers who ‘fail to protect’, the ‘unfit’ mother are all examples of such myths that perpetrators use to their advantage. Many women who are victims and survivors of abuse find that when they seek help through the normal channels the gaze of services focuses on them as mothers, scrutinises their behaviour and blames them. Simultaneously, men’s abuse becomes invisible when the abuse is denied and reframed as lies by ‘implacably hostile’ mothers. These same men are then viewed as ‘good fathers’ and ‘caring dads’ when they ‘symbolise family values’ within the paradigm of ‘shared parenting’.

Seek out professionals who understand coercive control and ask them to help you challenge it. Find support from other women in similar situations so that you don’t feel so alone in what you are going through. MATCH mothers is such an organisation. Many of their members are unfortunately very attached to the concept of parental alienation syndrome and spend time promoting it through awareness-raising and activism and this is unhelpful. That aside, most members understand the pain and suffering of being separated from their children by their abuser and can help with that feeling of universality – that you are not the only woman in the world to experience the anguish, isolation, humiliation, blame and self-blame of being a mother apart from her children.

Good luck and stay strong.


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Mechanisms of Maternal Alienation

My model showing the mechanisms of maternal alienation


A designer friend of mine funked up my model of the mechanisms of maternal alienation that I developed during my psychology master’s in 2013. I planned on using it in a presentation for the West Midlands Specialist Domestic Abuse conference on coercive control March 14th 2017. However, I have it on good advice that this is not an ideal Powerpoint slide for a conference presentation as the audience might not be able to see it properly. So, I thought I’d file it here for all those interested in my work to see. I’ll use it in the training that I have developed for professionals to learn about the coercive control of women using their children that leads to mother-child separation.

As always, the findings of my study do not in any way apply generally to men but, specifically, to abusive men who use children to control and abuse their partners or ex-partners by targeting the mother-child relationship.

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